The Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier

The Ferris Wheel at Navy Pier
Photo by: Nicole Shackleford (Stock Exchange)

Welcome home to the Disabled Travelers blog!

Chicago is one of the most popular destinations for disabled travelers and their travel companions, and posts about it have always been some of the most popular.

Now that I’ve spent some time taking in the sights, I think it’s a great time to give my impressions on accessible attractions and other amenities in the Windy City.

Here’s a quick summation of my trip and my thoughts.

The Chicago Metra: All 11 trains of the Chicago-area passenger train services are accessible, with features to help disabled travelers who have issues with vision, hearing, or mobility. Combined with the People With Disabilities Ride Free Program, commuter transit is pretty easy around the Chicago area, especially compared to other big cities.

The Metra tends to be extremely crowded, especially when heading toward Union Station. It may not be comfortable, but there is definitely accessible space set aside for wheelchair users and a variety of other riders with special needs. Chicago Union Station itself has a number of stairs, though, so be careful.

For more information, check out the Chicago Transit Authority.

Medieval Times: This was dinner my first night in Chicago and is a popular family attraction. Note that it’s not actually in Chicago, but rather in Schaumburg, a community about an hour away that plays host to some of America’s greatest shopping malls. Those with mild to moderate hearing or vision impairments may still be able to enjoy the show, though some portions of it are conducted in low light. I did not see any evidence of disability friendly seating, though, so call ahead to be sure.

Navy Pier: One of Chicago’s most iconic attractions, and the place you’re likely to end up after taking an accessible cruise up the Chicago River. (Note, if you’re interested in the accessible cruise, either the architecture tour or the night tour, also read up on the accessible drop-off area.) The Pier itself is largely wheelchair accessible, as the FAQ indicates. Crowds for rides such as the Ferris Wheel are actually pretty reasonable, but be aware that prominent safety warnings prevent individuals with leg, breathing, or heart-related issues from riding many of them.

Bourgeois Pig Cafe: Plenty of outside seating, some of which might be amenable to disabled travelers using mobility devices. Though this place isn’t very well known outside the neighborhood, it deserves special notice thanks to the delicious, hand-made sandwiches. Very flavorful, in keeping with the bohemian atmosphere! The “Hobbit” was delicious and kept me satisfied for the rest of the night. They also have green tea imported directly from Japan!

Paddy Long’s: This is another spot that makes no pretense to being accessible (visitors should be prepared for “traditional” high, backless bar stools), but I have to mention it thanks to “Beer and Bacon”, a delicious and festive tasting of regional bacon and beer from around Chicago and the world. It’s one of the most popular events at Paddy Long’s and for good reason. The bacon is delicious and the pairings will delight you!

“Willis” Tower: Formerly (and some would argue, properly) known as Sears Tower, the Skydeck is the big draw here, helping you enjoy the view from 103 stories up – still the tallest building in the western hemisphere despite losing the top spot worldwide.

The Skydeck accessibility page confirms my hunch that the whole experience is set up for wheelchairs, scooters, and strollers. Guide animals are also permitted throughout the building. Disabled travelers and their travel companions should have no problem, and the customer service is very good.

Make note, though, that the elevator that leads up to the Skydeck is required by management to be slap full, and this part of the journey will be pretty uncomfortable for anyone who dislikes tight spaces. On the Skydeck the view is … penetrating, so those with a fear of heights should also consider passing. (A final cautionary note: You will be photographed in the lobby … and once you get down, the sales team is pretty aggressive!)

Chicago is a terrific place – very welcoming, very accessible. If you’re up for a trip to a bustling city with terrific sights (something like New York with about half the people) you can’t go wrong with a visit to accessible Chicago.


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